Media addiction

Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House

As a student in the early Seventies I used to work in a newsagent. It amazed me to see the clockwork regularity with which customers turned up to buy their paper. It also amazed me at their anger and frustration if for one reason or another ‘their’ paper was not available. This little sign of emotional and psychological dependence on ‘the media’ alerted me to a significant trait in many people – we might term it ‘media addiction’.

It can take many forms and these have multiplied over the years. But in all these forms the ‘symptoms’ give cause for serious concern for the spiritual life of the addict. For the ‘news addict’ a praiseworthy interest in world affairs can become obsessional. There is also ‘serial addiction’, in the form of obsessional watching and listening to soap operas. There is also the related ‘sport addiction’ – that is, of the armchair spectator variety.

When people come and talk to me about their ‘spiritual life’ they don’t expect to be asked about their daily reading, listening and viewing habits, so my enquiries about this do come as quite a surprise. It does strike me as bizarre that a person who is concerned about their spiritual, emotional and mental consciousness does not appreciate that watching six hours of a soap opera a week, or three feature films a weekend, will have an effect on their relationship with God in prayer and worship.

There is something about the ‘media’ that both saps the will and eats up time to such a degree that it can waste much of our best energies and prime time. It is so omnipresent that it ceases to be ‘invasive’ and becomes part of the ‘normal environment’. In many households I visit, and indeed in my own home when the ‘younger generation’ is visiting, there is constant drizzle of noise from one box and ever-active screen to another. God knows what this does to our ability to look and listen, both of these senses being essential pathways to a deeper awareness of the presence of God in all things.

But this is the nature of our culture – it is one that has a deadened consciousness and conscience because of the toxic side effects of ‘media addiction’. But, as in the case of other addictions, an individual has to recognize that it is a problem: ‘My name is Andy and I am addicted to Test Match Special!’ Sometimes ‘shock therapy’ can help – a simple calculation of the hours spent in front of the television or reading the newspaper each week is a start. Then compare it with the time you dedicate to your prayer or worship. Another ‘cognitive behaviour therapy’ is to reckon up how much your media addiction costs and compare to your charitable giving. In my experience as a parish priest very few people pass the ‘Daily Telegraph Test’, i.e. they give less to the church than they pay for a paper for seven days! Simply ask the questions ‘Do I know why I watch, listen or read that every day or week?’ ‘Does it strengthen or inhibit my Christian faith?’ ‘Am I addicted?’

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